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County expects to return to commission in May for mall loan

Rowan County government plans to return, once again, to the Local Government Commission in May for approval of a $3.95 million loan that would cover the cost of the former Salisbury Mall’s purchase and future renovations.

Last week, the county began soliciting financing rates for the former mall, now called West End Plaza. The loan’s amount is identical to one last year that wasn’t approved by the Local Government Commission — a municipal and county financial regulatory group. With three county commissioner spots open, the loan was withdrawn from state agency consideration before November’s election.

The loan’s total amount — $3.95 million — covers the cost of its late 2013 purchase. Finance Director Leslie Heidrick said it will also include $500,000 designated last year for renovations. The current crop of county commissioners in February voted to resubmit its original loan application for the West End Plaza. The $500,000 wouldn’t be restricted to any specific type of renovations, Heidrick said.

A request for proposals, posted on March 5, states the county expects to close May 14 on the loan. Heidrick said the closing date would require Local Government Commission approval during its May meeting.

Payments on the loan are scheduled to begin in September and end in 2025, according to county documents.

The total amount of the loan is separated into two parts on the request for proposals. Approximately $2.5 million would be taxable and $1.45 million would be non-taxable. Heidrick said the non-taxable amount is an estimate that reflects the portion of space Rowan County plans to use for government services, such as the Board of Elections and Veterans Services.

Proposals for the loan are scheduled to be opened March 23 at 11 a.m. in the county’s administrative office building on West Innes Street.

Commissioners and Heidrick have said previously the loan is needed to prevent the county’s bond rating from dipping below its current levels. The county is currently rated Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service, AA by Fitch Ratings and AA- by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service. The County’s North Carolina Municipal Council Rating is 88. A loan would replenish the fund balance amount spent on the purchase of the West End Plaza.

If the loan is approved, it would raise the county’s total debt amount to nearly $80 million, according to figures provided by Heidrick.

Heidrick said the additional debt wouldn’t be problematic for the county’s finances because the West End Plaza was included in the county’s fiscal year 2014-2015 budget. The county is also budgeted to take out a $1.9 million loan for heating and ventilation upgrades at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

Rowan County purchased the former mall in late 2013. The request for proposals states the county “expects to use a portion of the project for administrative offices, and to lease the remainder to current or future tenants.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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